There is great acting, and then there is what Charlotte Rampling achieves in 45 Years. Playing one half of a couple whose long marriage is tested by the arrival of an unexpected piece of news, she digs deep within her being, going into the purest, most truthful places to uncover a goldmine of emotion that registers ever so subtly on her expressive face. This is ‘acting’ of the highest order, a ‘performance’ constructed almost entirely on little nuances and virtually invisible gestures.

 

Rampling and Tom Courtenay play Kate and Geoff Mercer, a childless, retired couple living a quiet, idyllic life in the English countryside. They have the kind of intimate comfort that comes from spending nearly a lifetime together. Amid regular activities like walking the dog, revisiting their favorite books, and sipping afternoon tea, the two of them are planning their 45th anniversary party.

 

Then Geoff gets a letter informing him that the body of his previous girlfriend Katya, who was killed in a hiking accident in the Swiss Alps 50 years ago, has been found. The discovery throws the pair into turmoil: Geoff can’t stop thinking about his first ‘true love’, and of what might have been. Kate finds herself jealous of a woman who’s been dead for decades. As the date of the party draws closer, we watch their marriage unravel, and Kate in particular as she becomes consumed by doubt and resentment.

 

Writer-director Andrew Haigh leaves his camera to calmly ‘observe’ as his actors gnaw away at your heart. Beautifully shot, and unfolding slowly with the main characters often ruminating in silence, the film occasionally feels longer than its 93 minutes running time. But there isn’t a hint of artifice in the performances of both leads; Courtenay invests Geoff with a real fragility, playing the character as confused and lost, and more than a little sad. Yet Rampling is the star performer here, conveying volumes through seemingly minimal effort. As the camera lingers over Kate in the film’s last scene, she breaks your heart in a hundred pieces, making your walk to the exit feel like the longest journey you’ve taken.

 

I first watched 45 Years at the Berlin Film Festival in February last year, and I wasn’t able to shake it off for weeks. Having re-watched it again this week for the purpose of this review, I’m happy to report it hasn’t lost any of its incredible power.

 

I’m going with a full five out of five for 45 Years. The film creeps upon you slowly and just doesn’t let go.

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